On the surface, Eliza Ault-Connell and I are quite similar.
We’re both in our thirties, married and have three kids – however, Eliza lost her legs and most of her fingers to meningococcal disease at the age of 16.
It came out of nowhere and felt like the flu before progressing rapidly, leaving her young life drastically changed.
To say she’s faced some major obstacles is a massive understatement. But these days, she’s a mum of three, Director of Meningococcal Australia and a Paralympian.
So how on earth does she manage to raise a family under such challenging circumstances? By being awesome, that’s how.
Can you remember how you felt at 16 when you first started coming down with what you’d later discover was meningococcal disease?
“Basically I woke up one morning on September 30, 1997 with a headache, vomiting and fever. I popped a couple of paracetamol and took a nap. I woke up a couple of hours later with a rash and mum knew something was seriously wrong and we went to the local emergency department in town. En route the rash was turning black. I was quickly diagnosed with meningococcal disease and airlifted to a larger city hospital that was more experienced to cope with what was about to unfold.
On the second night my parents were told that to save my life my legs would need to be amputated below the knee, so really it wasn’t a choice, it was lose me or lose my legs.”
"On the second night my parents were told that to save my life my legs would need to be amputated below the knee, so really it wasn't a choice, it was lose me or lose my legs." Image via iStock.
Now that you are a mum, you must truly understand the anguish your own mother must have gone through that night.
"I can see now as a mother it must have been an awful thing to hear, but so fortunate that they chose to do that to keep me here. I was in a coma for two weeks and as a 16-year-old waking up to find both of your legs amputated was a shock, but when I was told how serious things were I felt grateful to still be here.
It was my choice however to have my fingers amputated. I was told that the risk of re-infection to my body could be devastating. So again really there wasn't a choice as I wanted desperately to live. The day I had my fingers and affected skin on my arms and legs removed was the hardest day of my life, physically more than emotionally."
You went on to become a successful Paralympian. Were you always into sport?
"Sport always played a huge part in my life. I enjoyed the friendships and camaraderie of sport but never had that competitive streak. This changed after meningococcal. I felt challenged to learn so many everyday tasks, then I felt I needed something more. I thrived on the challenge.